By Terry Doran
Special to Frost Illustrated
“There is a battle of two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, lies, inferiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth. The wolf that wins? The one you feed.”—Cherokee Proverb
For the past year or so I have been working with others to create the Three Rivers Arts Center for Kids, TRACK, a concept as simple as it is important. The simple part is this: we provide a platform for the best of our natures to contribute, participate and flourish; the best being the part that finds pleasure in helping others. And that’s the important part: you are empowering the lives of young people through your talents and time.
Though open to everyone, our emphasis is on using art to help abused kids. Social worker Carol Spallone says simply:
“Art regenerates brain cells.”
Artist Peggy Tassler, owner of SOZO Art Gallery, describes how TRACK does this:
“To have a place that offers a safe haven of healing and expression of one’s emotions through art would be wonderful. As a survivor of child abuse, I see this vision as a positive. TRACK can be a place where scholarships and funding is generated to make a difference. It can become a catalyst for changes within the laws to occur.”
We define art to include personal stories and sharing experiences,
Already a wide range of musicians, actors, filmmakers, writers, dancers and others share Peggy’s vision. Some examples: volunteer and tv host/producer Patty Hunter wrote a poem called “Children of the World.” Joe Jackson, a member of the all volunteer TRACK team, introduced us to a local singer- songwriter, Chuy Hernandez, who liked the poem so much he wrote a song with his friend Hilaria Heredia called “For the Children” which they sang on our Access TV show “The Power of Art.” A guest on that show, Kate Majorins, was inspired by the song and offered to choreograph a dance. A teacher at the Fort Wayne Dance Collective, Kate found her dancers from her students, five teen girls whose talent was matched by their desire to help others. They performed the dance in December last year.
Mayor Henry pledged to help us find a building.
My 13-year-old daughter, Cayman, created our logo, and her friend, Skyla Wilson, made a banner.
Artworks, Photo Bleu Photography, Patty and jewelry artist Neelam Soni all donated beautiful items for an upcoming silent auction.
Other shows featured five mental health therapists talking about abuse and its various forms, which led to one of the therapists, Linda Hartley, joining Patty and abuse survivor Maleah Heck on a round table discussion. Maleah is an example of the power of speaking and forgiveness to make something positive out of darkness. She speaks to local schools about her experiences and how helping others has helped her. The exposure these shows generated took us to Kendallville in June to participate in “Combating Child Abuse.”
There, thanks to the generous support of Lowe’s on Lima Road, who donated the supplies, and Peggy, who donated her time, TRACK sponsored a mural painting. Over a dozen kids, some as young as four, and adults, took part, and the highlight was watching eight-year-old Destiny Shepherd take a few strokes on the mural. Destiny was badly shaken when she was a baby and suffered brain damage and needed the help of her mother, Randi, who guided Destiny’s hand. Randi is working hard to establish a law in Destiny’s name.
John Dickmeyer, retired director of business at the Allen County Public Library and a producer of a public access show, along with Patty and her husband Bob, a writer/researcher who came up with the name TRACK, hauled the paint and signboard to Kendallville in John’s van. The boards stuck out too far for the back hatch to close so Bob figured out a way to hold the door down with a bungee cord and it only flew open once! John drove the whole way with flashers on at about 45 mph. Once there, we found, in addition to Randi and Destiny, others devoted to stopping child abuse, such as Tyler Sprunger, a young man who stood by himself, carrying out a lonely vigil in front of the LaGrange County Courthouse, protesting the ridiculously low sentence for the woman who killed his baby niece, Alissa. Known now as simply 77 Days, Tyler’s protest of one has grown to hundreds around the country. We look forward to having Tyler and his family on an upcoming forum and we were moved by the passion for abused children an officer of BACA, Bikers Against Child Abuse, shared with us. BACA is a non-profit group of bikers who use unique ways to help abused children.
All of this in turn led to our biggest program yet: teaming up with IPFW’s Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs as part of their seventh annual Domestic Violence Initiative “Breaking Through the Silence. The Noise of Breaking Through an Abusive Situation.” The speakers will be Maleah and Randi, two courageous young women whose stories will inspire you as they refuse to let despair define them. A short performance by the Fort Wayne Ballet will open the proceedings. Mark your calendars: noon to 1:15 p.m. Nov. 13. There will be a resource fair for more information about the work other agencies are doing.
IPFW’s College Access TV Studio will videotape the event for playback at a later date. We thank Christopher Riley of the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs for making this important event possible and for our being part of it. They are also sponsoring a talk by famed actress Lauren Chapin, Kathy, of the TV classic “Father Knows Best,” in March.
These people and many more represent a wide diversity of talent, age, wealth, and race. Abuse crosses all boundaries. It takes all people of conscience to make a dent in what is an epidemic in America, which has the highest rate of child abuse of all industrialized countries and ranks 28th out of 29 countries in a recent study of child well-being. In Indiana alone, according to an article in the Kendallville Sun about abuse and how TRACK is working to fight it:
“The 2012 Indiana Youth Institute Databook states that in Indiana in 2011, there were 14,439 substantiated child neglect cases, 3,081 substantiated child sexual abuse cases and 1,995 substantiated child physical abuse cases.” (iyi.org/databook)
I myself suffered abuse growing up that has for better or worse defined me. My brother Rick, abused even worse, took his life at the age of 47. He could never quiet the voices in his head that told him how worthless he was, that he didn’t deserve to live. I’ve heard that voice. All abused children have heard it. You tend to blame yourself and are eaten alive with guilt even though you have done nothing wrong. As Peggy Tassler stated:
“Abuse creates a shadow that follows you in your life.”
Randi Shepherd describes this shadow with an anguish only a mother defending her abused child can express:
“…The child, helpless and defenseless against the power and rage of an adult, must suffer a lifetime of punishment for a crime they never committed… The child must live the remainder of their new life in a broken and battered body always trying to overcome their new physical and mental handicaps that have been dealt to them by no choice of their own. Destiny Shepherd is just one example of the millions of children that suffer from the hands of evil people. With every blow that Destiny received from her attacker, Destiny slipped closer and closer to death. Upon completion of the attack, Destiny was now a new girl destined to suffer a lifetime of punishment from her physical body and from society now that she is physically and mentally disabled.… Destiny will always require supervision and assistance with eating, bathing, walking, dressing and every other thing that her attacker is able to do without thought or consideration. Destiny is now unable to see what lies in her future, not just because she has brain damage, but also because her attacker stole her sight.…”
We drown out the voice of concern with mindless chatter and distractions that succeed only in stifling rational discourse. What is needed, as Frost editor and friend Michael Patterson urged in an eloquent editorial responding to the endless babble on the Trayvon Martin verdict, “a moment of silence please.” To listen to others and to examine our motives is what produces thoughtful action. But, many don’t want to confront what the silence brings: an awareness of the hollowness of their character, the emptiness of their thoughts, the ache of their loneliness, the humiliation of their fear. The result is a worship of wealth that results in the average CEO making more in a day than a worker in the company makes in a year. No wonder millions of kids go hungry, neglected, beaten, and scarred for life—if they survive. But, not every American has the mentality of most CEOs or members of Congress. I have been truly blessed to meet through TRACK some of the best humans anywhere. They inspire me, help me to know I’m on the right track, and in my moments of doubt, I listen to the silence and there in the stillness I see little Destiny painting that mural and a mother’s love for her child. And I know which wolf to feed.
Please join us.
For more information, pictures and videos, see Three Rivers Arts Center for Kids Facebook page.
Terry Doran is a well-known independent documentarian, public television producer and human rights activist living from Fort Wayne.
This article originally appeared in the Aug. 7 print edition.